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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

From Paris with Love

How to navigate a relationship when a year abroad gets in the way

“I want to take you out to dinner and talk about your year abroad.”

We went to Noodle Nation on Gloucester Green, Trinity 2018. James and I had only known each other three weeks, and quite honestly the idea that we might try and continue what we had barely begun confused me. No one wants long-distance and if they do, it’s often because they will have their mind distracted by the novelty of travelling to a new place. I was the one exploring Europe, not him, and yet he seemed keen to contemplate the possibility. I wanted us to each be safe – not sorry – and I had heard the sorrowful tales of those who had tried without succeeding. Neither of us deserved that. Least of all him, this kind, caring, breath of fresh air of a man soon to be tackling English finals. We parted ways, respectively not letting on how deflated we were left feeling in the other’s absence.

Summer in Paris and I was subconsciously compensating for my loss of an ideal companion. With Tinder. It taught me a lot and, pardon the innuendo, filled a gaping hole left by the aforementioned ideal companion. That I don’t want someone in their 30s, that I want someone who respects me, that I need someone who isn’t just looking for a novel ginger and English native to tote around the city. Having said that, the French-speaking opportunities that the app presented to me were unmissable. I embraced them between sobbing sessions at my intern’s desk. 

Oxford, throughout this time away, has remained my centre of gravity. When everything’s foreign it throws you off balance and only the comfort of friends and a familiar environment can give you back your stability. Noughth week Michaelmas saw me back visiting those who, before too long, would be retreating to their revision caves. James was no exception, and we spent the weekend interrogating each other about the dating-related escapades that had gone on in both England and France. I remember having to disguise my frustration because all I wanted was this man to myself, for him to be off the swiping market. He seemed unfazed by my cross-Channel tales.

I failed to mention that mid-September when I was passing through London, James did a four-hour Oxford Tube round trip to see me for just two hours. My grandma had died earlier that day and I spent my journey to Gatwick in tears because I had lost James too. But I had a necklace that got me thinking, maybe, if this guy is prepared to give me a cross bought on holiday in Greece, he likes me? A phone call on October 9th confirmed my shaky suspicions and I was literally shaking. Shaking before, afraid of rejection and shaking after in disbelief. Quite rightly, he had made the point that I seemed to enjoy the single life in Paris, the city of love. It could have been the dissuading factor, but it wasn’t. James was himself in la ville d’amour only eight weeks later. By January he had met my family and he has just left Lisbon where I am spending phase two of my year abroad. Almost six months and going strong, I am a staunch proponent of trying to make it work if you feel there is something there to surmount physical separation.The next time we see each other, it will be a year since we first met.

I still struggle with accepting that someone is willing to make the effort for me and likewise with missing someone who should be so much closer geographically. FaceTime is your friend and handwritten letters sent by snail-airmail add tangible romanticism to the every day. I am a naturally trustworthy person, and this is, of course, key. But losing my (proper) relationship virginity while abroad has meant adding more of the unknown to what is already strange and unfamiliar. It feels natural to be with James and yet so unnatural that ‘being with’ should be little more than words on a page and calls dependent on Wi-Fi connection. In spite of this, we both agree (and what a cliché this is) that if we can do this, we can do anything. We have had a head start on others whose relationship must withstand unsynchronized graduations. Oxford to London is certainly much easier than Lisbon to Oxford.

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